Report card

The nation’s academic report card provided some good news for Nevada on Wednesday. But all the sugar coating in the world can’t sweeten this country’s increasingly dismal record of teaching kids math.

The good news: Nevada was one of only four states to show improvement in math proficiency in both the fourth and eighth grades this year, when compared to the 2007 results of National Assessment of Educational Progress testing. New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont (along with the District of Columbia) were the only other states to make gains in both grades.

The bad news: Nevada’s scores were still below national averages, ranking its fourth-graders 42nd among the states and the District of Columbia, while its eighth-graders tied for 43rd.

The truly awful news: Nationally, only 39 percent of fourth-graders are proficient in math, meaning their math skills are deemed to be adequate for their grade level. Only 34 percent of the country’s eighth graders are proficient at math. Those figures are essentially unchanged since 2007.

You read that correctly. More than 60 percent of fourth-graders are lagging in math, and two-thirds — two-thirds! — of eighth-graders aren’t remotely ready for the rigors of high school math.

Which begs two of the most obvious questions in public education today: If the majority of our students aren’t sufficiently mastering the material they are taught in early grades, why aren’t students bringing home report cards full of F’s, and why are schools advancing them?

“We need reforms that will accelerate student achievement,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday. “Our students need to graduate high school ready to succeed in college and the workplace.”

What we really need is more honesty and accountability from public education systems.

If children aren’t demonstrating proficiency in the core subjects that form the foundation for future achievement, it should be reflected in their report cards. Failing students shouldn’t have their grades lifted from F’s to C’s — or even B’s — based on such puffery as “effort” and “participation.” Otherwise, even moderately engaged parents will wrongly assume their children are above-average students.

School systems also must explore ways to more quickly identify and remediate students who aren’t keeping up. Math teachers, especially, know which students are in over their heads after just a few weeks of class. There’s no reason to force these kids to languish and feel lost for one month, let alone eight. These students should be moved into catch-up classes.

Nevada’s improvement is encouraging. But its schools will have to make radical changes to make a radical leap in the national rankings.

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